Kinderdijk was the first place that I visited in Netherlands. Aside from stepping out in Den Haag for an hour or two after our flight landed that is. I call it my introduction to Europe. Shawn thinks it is the place that stole my heart and he isn’t very wrong there. Kinderdijk is gorgeous, perfect and romantic. It’s definitely one of my favourite places in Netherlands and that is saying something because I love the country and the people with a passion that even the Dutch find astounding. I digress… Let’s get back to the topic at hand… Kinderdijk!
The Nat Geo sign at Kinderdijk demands a pose.
Today Kinderdijk is a UNESCO Heritage site that has stood the test of time and remains a testament to how well the Dutch community manages its water issues. While many countries across the world battle with scarcity of water, Netherlands has a unique problem. It has too much water. Always had and potentially will. Kinderdijk (like so many parts of Netherlands) lies below sea level. But unlike other places that lie below sea level, you don’t require snorkelling or scuba gear. The Kinderdijk area has been kept dry and has been cultivated due to the ingenious use of canals, windmills and pumping stations. When you visit Kinderdijk you can’t help but think about the rising oceans and climate change. While the Dutch water systems are amazing and brilliant, you can’t help but wonder how long they will work if global warming is not reversed.
That being said, the story behind Kinderdijk goes back hundreds of years. While the mechanism of pumping out water from the ground has been refined and developed, the concept has been around for a long while.
The walk through the meadows is gorgeous.
Tickets to visit the UNESCO Heritage site can be obtained from the official site. The current cost of the ticket is €7 per person. We were able to purchase tickets from the ticket office on site which is a bit more costly.The ticket also provides access to the Blokweer, Nederwaard and Wisdom Pump museums which are worth seeing. If you aren’t aware about how the Dutch water pump system works (and even if you do), we would suggest visiting the Wisdom Pump museum before heading to the other parts of the site. It will give you a bit of history and a bit of knowledge of how the function of the windmills and the dykes works.
GETTING TO KINDERDIJK
Kinderdijk is an easy road trip from most places in Netherlands largely because of its good transportation system. Its approximately 97 kms away from Amsterdam, 62 kms away from Utrecht, 24 kms from Rotterdam and 52 kms from Den Haag. It is easily accessible by road and by local transport.
WISDOM PUMP MUSEUM
A model of the windmills that was setup in the museum.
The Wisdom Pump Museum is a great place to start off. There is a short video explaining why the drainage of the land in the vicinity is so important. The original settlers stayed on the sand dunes in the area. As time progressed, the need to cultivate land increased. The entire expanse of Kinderdijk was mostly submerged under water and was technically a bog. The rivers and the sea competed for its terrain. Cultivating the area seemed almost impossible especially since it was accessible only in summer and that too if and only if the water levels were low.
In order to cultivate the land, the settlers of Kinderdijk built dykes. To do this, they built dykes that kept the sea water. Their problems however were far from solved. Rain water and ground water kept the vicinity submerged making agricultural development difficult. The challenge was to drain the water out of the land and to ensure that the draining mechanism worked continuously so that Kinderdijk did not get submerged once more. The Dutch then harnessed the wind and the water to work to their advantage. With an intricate system of canals and windmills, the water was pumped out of the land making it habitable. The fertile plain then served as a great place to cultivate crops.
The life of these initial settlers however was hard. Managing the windmills was a full-time chore. If the windmills failed, it meant that the area would flood, and their livelihood would be washed away. In addition to managing the windmills, they needed to tend to the crops to ensure that they had enough food for their families. The cold, rain and poverty did not help them either. It only served to make their life increasingly difficult. That however is something that can be seen in the other museums on the site.
The wind energy was later supplement by steam pumps and today, Kinderdijk is kept dry due to the electric pumps that are in use. These pumps are faster and more efficient than the windmills. The windmills of Kinderdijk however are maintained and still kept in use. Making the entire site surreal and beautiful. I highly doubt that there is another windmill complex like Kinderdijk elsewhere in the world.
THE LEGEND OF KINDERDIJK
The clear blue skies and the windmills make an amazing backdrop for photographs.
The legend of Kinderdijk revolves over a flood that took place in November 1421. A storm beat down in the middle of the night raising the water levels of the river. The dykes collapsed, and the water swept in to submerge Kinderdijk claiming the lives of thousands of people. When the storm subsided, and the people came out, they found a baby in the basket. Legend says that the baby would not have survived if it had not been for the cat that rocked the basket to and fro. The rocking motion kept the basket balanced in the midst of the natural calamity. People say that the legend gave Kinderdijk its name. You see ‘Kind’ in Dutch means ‘Child’ and ‘Dijk’ is ‘Dyke’.
MUSEUM WINDMILL NEDERWAARD
A view from inside the museum.
You walk through beautiful green meadows to reach the Museum Windmill Nederwaard. It was the first windmill I had ever seen up close and it was definitely the first windmill that I had ever been in. The Museum Windmill Nederwaard, gives you an idea of what the life conditions of the initial settlers was. Their clothes and the sizes of the beds definitely shows that they were much shorter than the average Dutch person today. Heating the entire windmill was impossible. That’s why the entire family would hunker down in a tiny room where the stove was located in. The stove served to cook their food and keep the tiny room warm.
Climb up the stairs to see the rotating parts of the windmill in action. The views from above are spectacular. The steps are steep and narrow so watch your step!
MUSEUM WINDMILL BLOKWEER
The Museum Windmill Blokweer displays a different type of windmill architecturally. This one has a larger base which is homelier than the previous one. There aren’t steps leading up to the top. It is a quaint little stop as you wander through the area.
THINGS TO DO IN KINDERDIJK
We were rather surprised at the number of things that one can do in Kinderdijk. The multiple activities make Kinderdijk a great place to visit provided the weather holds up its end of the bargain. While we did not indulge in all the activities, we are just going to list them so that you know they exist and you can plan your trip better than we did.
- Visit the museums
- Take a boat and enjoy the countryside in true Dutch style.
- Cycle paths are plentiful, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that cycling around Kinderdijk is popular too.
- Walk leisurely through the countryside enjoying the peace and quiet. You can even have a nice picnic.
- Catch a quick bite to eat at the outdoor patio.
We had so many options on our plate to choose from and we picked Kinderdijk as our first spot. It’s a decision that I never regretted. The site is as symbolic as it is beautiful. It tells of a story when man worked with nature to strike a balance. Life was not easy for the initial Dutch settlers but just because it was difficult did not mean that they gave up. They persevered, the experimented and they perfected concepts in water management that are used around the world today. Aside from the history, Kinderdijk has beauty, peace and it makes you feel the strong connection that man needs to have with the natural environment.